11. The National, 'Sleep Well Beast'
Where the Ohio-bred, Brooklyn-forged band makes its leap from admirable indie-rock high achievers to mainstream contenders, not via marketplace pandering but, rather, the old fashioned way: upping its musical and lyrical game. The band's trademark Joy Division gloom gets cut with sexiness and dark humor, abetted by co-writer Carin Besser (singer Matt Berninger's wife) plus backing singers Lisa Hannigan and Justin "Bon Iver" Vernon. The soundscapes, meanwhile, are more striking than ever, with prominent electronics, edgy string arrangements and lancing guitar ("The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness"). It's a rock record that rages against our freakish cultural moment not by sloganeering but by turning inward, circling wagons, taking stock of beauty and love and gathering strength for what lies ahead. W.H.